The head of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission last week called for the EPA to crack down on phosphorus, particularly from agriculture, which is producing algae blooms that he said are harming fish populations in the the Susquehanna River.

In a July 28 letter to EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin, Executive Director John Arway praised the agency’s recent decision to increase oversight of Pennsylvania agriculture because that sector is falling short of Chesapeake Bay nutrient reduction goals.

“While large strides have been made in other sectors, the agricultural sector has been more complicated to understand and subsequently account for in regulatory improvements,” Arway said in the letter. “Further investigation into the agricultural contribution will be challenging but one that is much needed and long overdue.”

Arway also called on the agency to help identify factors contributing to the river’s poor health, and to take corrective steps “before it becomes too late to repair the damage.” He said phosphorus reductions needed for the river  may be even more restrictive than those set for the Chesapeake.

While the issue is studied, he called for Pennsylvania to implement phosphorus control actions to address Lake Erie algae blooms. These actions were recently suggested by the International Joint Commission, an advisory body that makes recommendations for management of the Great Lakes. If enacted statewide, Arway said, those measures would have “far-reaching implications to improve the Susquehanna.”

Among the recommendations:

  • Avoid agricultural applications of phosphorus in the autumn;
  • Reduce the phosphorus load delivered during the spring period (March 1 to June 30);
  • Increase the scale and intensity of agricultural best management practices programs that have been shown to reduce phosphorus runoff;
  • Strengthen and increase regulatory mechanisms for conservation farm planning to reduce nutrient loadings;
  • Accelerate 4Rs (Right source, Right rate, Right time and Right place) outreach/extension programs and phase in mandatory certification  standards for agrology advisors, retailers and applicators to ensure fertilizer is applied based on the 4Rs.
  • Ban agricultural operations’ application of manure, biosolids and commercial fertilizers containing phosphorus on frozen ground or ground covered by snow;
  • Work with local governments to promote and accelerate the use of green infrastructure such as filter strips, rain gardens, bio-swales and engineered wetlands; and
  • Prohibit the sale and use of phosphorus fertilizers for lawn care.

The commission, which is an independent agency, has for several years contended that poor water quality in the river is harming fish, particularly smallmouth bass. Last year, it sought, unsuccessfully, to have the state Department of Environmental Protection declare the river “impaired” because of impacts to fish health.